Fantasy Insider 3/15

It's never too early to find some juicy nuggets of information that may propel you into your Fantasy League Championship. SFDugout Club Members can get an early jump on fantasy baseball in this weekly article during the offseason

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP John Patterson has added a new pitch to his bag of tricks in the guise of a cut fastball. He's also working on a change-up in an effort to secure the 5th spot in the rotation. LF Luis Gonzalez says his surgically repaired throwing elbow is fine and he'll be ready for the season opener but he's not going to risk throwing it out in Spring Training. Bottom line, he'll be ready to go but the question remains of how effective he will be, let alone how close he'll be to matching his previous All Star form. Number two starter, Brandon Webb, is about to ink an extension with the team, which always makes for a happy pitcher.

Atlanta Braves: JD Drew is certifiably hot in the early going. In his first three spring games, Drew crushed three homeruns and now has four homeruns in nine official at bats this spring. There is no doubt that Drew has talent, but don't get too excited by the spring numbers. The change of scenery is likely to give Drew a huge lift, but his biggest obstacle has been injuries. Unfortunately, the only way for a guy to prove he won't get injured is to go for a full season without getting injured. You could draft Drew, but plan on adding an extra big time outfielder just in case the injury bug finds it's way from St. Louis to Atlanta.

Chicago Cubs: How many teams fifth starter has fantasy value? Not too many, however for fantasy owners and the Cubs, they are one of the few teams that do. Carlos Zambrano is slated to be the Cubs last man in the rotation, and if he can improve on last year's performance, then he will be among the league leaders again. Zambrano threw plenty of innings in 2003, ranking 8th with 214 innings, which could have been detrimental to the young man in his first full year starting. Zambrano started the year on fire, but fizzled out near the end when he seemed tired. Despite this, he still had one of the best ERA's in the league at 3.11. He had plenty of strikeouts with 168, utilizing his sinking fastball to fool batters. The most important thing that the sinking fastball does is limit the long ball, which can kill a pitcher are Wrigley Field. Zambrano is a perfect fit for the Windy City, and his fantasy stats will reflect that not only at home, but on the road as well. Zambrano could be a good sleeper pick in any fantasy draft.

Cincinnati Reds: Ryan Freel deserves a chance to be an everyday player. This guy has all the tools and has become a valuable part of the Reds roster. With Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Austin Kearns set in the Reds outfield, Freel doesn't really have a home in the lineup. Of course, with that combination of outfielders, you may lead the league in games missed due to injuries, so Freel is sort of the Plan B course of action in Cincinnati. If you get late into a draft and can afford the pick, Ryan Freel might not be a bad player to grab, especially in deeper leagues that allow a lot of roster spots.

Colorado Rockies: Charles Johnson will again start behind the plate for the Rockies. The veteran will give you a solid amount of home runs from the catchers spot, but little else. His career average is a paltry .246 and his OBP is a .328. There are plenty of better options who combine a better average with slightly less power that will score a few more runs.

Florida Marlins: Catcher Ramon Castro has gotten the attention of manager Jack McKeon with his hot bat this spring. Although McKeon is not quite ready to announce who will be the starter on opening day, there is no question that Castro has the inside track over Mike Redmond. Castro is 5-16 for a .313 AVG so far this exhibition season; he is also tied for the team lead with 3 homeruns this and is leading the team with 8 RBI. If Ramon's off-the-field legal issues aren't a problem (his trial date for sexual assault charges is set for May 3rd), he must be looked at as a potential sleeper for the 2004 season. Injury Update 3B Mike Lowell received the results from an MRI performed on his aching right elbow on Thursday and the results found that there is no structural damage or loose fragments in the elbow. This is a best-case result for not only Lowell and the Marlins but for those considering drafting the All-Star third baseman for the 2004 season. Lowell will rest the elbow and will be out of action for the next 7 days.

Houston Astros: Roy Oswalt proved in 2001 and 2002 that he was one of the most exciting young pitchers in the game, and helped the Houston Astros to compete in the National League Central. However, the 2003 year was not as kind to Oswalt as he or the Astros might have hoped. He had a constantly injured groin throughout the year that caused him to miss several starts. He missed nearly 15 starts in 2004, causing his numbers to clearly decline. Despite this though, Oswalt is still one of the better young pitchers in the game. He has also went from being the number one starter to the number three starter with the pickup of Clemens and Pettitte. Oswalt should put up some very stellar numbers again in 2004 if he can stay healthy. Word right now has been that he is healthy; however keep your eye on the situation before betting the farm on Oswalt this year, because nasty groin injuries tend to reoccur.

Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers made a concerted effort this offseason to cut costs wherever possible in an attempt to clear as much payroll as possible. However, that doesn't mean the Brewers didn't make any additions. One name of note is OF Ben Grieve, the former Rookie of the Year who faltered badly once traded from the A's to Tampa. Grieve will be given an opportunity to return to his form with the Oakland A's, where he was extremely consistent over his first three seasons. If Grieve can return to his old form, the Brewers might have found themselves a steal and someone to help pick up the production lost when Richie Sexson was shipped out.

Montreal Expos: Carl Everett homered from both sides of the plate against the Indians split squad of players. The Expos have fallen in love with Everett, who has been a breath of fresh air - believe it or not - in the Expos clubhouse. Everett has gone so far as to help younger players on various parts of their game, even putting in extra time on the field to help out. Frank Robinson believes that Everett has come to value his playing career and is in the right frame of mind for a huge season. Robinson even went so far as to give in to Everett when the outfielder requested a little more playing time in the early spring games, when veterans usually get a couple at bats here and there and then take the rest of the day off.

New York Mets: There are two main position battles this spring. Four players are vying for the right field job (Timo Perez, Karim Garcia, Shane Spencer, and Roger Cedeno). One player will not make the club, as the Mets are unlikely to have six outfielders. Cedeno is the one player pretty much guaranteed not to go anywhere because of his contract status. Garcia and Perez are both signed as well. Spencer could be the odd man out. The other job up for grabs this spring is the #5 spot in the rotation. RHP Aaron Heilman and RHP Grant Roberts are the leading frontrunners so far. Heilman allowed one walk and no hits in four innings of work against the Expos Thursday night, striking out five batters.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates rotation is full of question marks, but there is one sure thing; Kip Wells. Wells had a solid record (considering the team record especially) and an even better ERA, making him the one sure thing for the Pirates. Wells was inconsistent in his two full seasons with the White Sox, but ever since coming over to the Pirates, he's become one of the better young starters in the National League. It's hard to judge Wells projected win-loss record because of the uncertainty surrounding the rest of the team, but nonetheless Wells should have another very good season for Pittsburgh.

Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies insist that Billy Wagner's sore middle finger is nothing to worry about. Still, the injury has prevented Wagner from pitching to live hitters yet this spring and he has just resumed throwing off the mound, which he was supposed to be able to do almost two weeks ago. Now, there's talk that Wagner may have to "just pitch through the pain" in the finger. That can't be good. Keep an eye on Wagner's status and especially be careful if his velocity drops by any noticeable margin. Meanwhile, the word on Jim Thome's injured middle finger is that he's doing much better and will be ready for opening day. There's probably a lot less to worry about with Thome's injury than there is with Wagner's, but both are worth watching.

San Diego Padres: Phil Nevin is out 2-4 weeks after diving for a ball and re-injuring his shoulder. Ironically, it happened on the same day that he injured his shoulder a year ago, March 7th. His injury is not expected to cost him any time for the regular season, but he will be rusty. Even if he returns on time, his situation bears watching and should drop him a couple of rounds.

San Francisco Giants: The planet nearly stopped rotating on its axis when Barry Bonds all but collapsed in the batting cage yesterday. After over an hour's worth of treatment, he proclaimed himself fine (although he didn't actually say "fine" since he barely says anything nice to the press). Apparently, episodes such as this are not infrequent with the slugger. Robb Nen said that he hasn't felt so good in two years. Upon hearing his comments, General Manager Brian Sabean hadn't either. The Giants starters are getting creamed so far, but Manager Felipe Alou isn't concerned. "It doesn't count," he said. "Not this year or last year and even the year before that." Good point. Count on Jason Schmidt to iron out the kinks and dominate the NL this year.

St. Louis Cardinals: Woody Williams has been a bit of an oddity in baseball. Williams didn't find his niche until he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. The odd part is that he was 35 when he finally found his niche. Williams had the best year of his career in 2003, posting a 3.87 ERA with an 18-9 record. He managed 153 strikeouts in an astounding 220 innings pitched. Some things just get better with age. However for Williams, 2004 may have been that career year that guys talk about until they get old. He is turning 38 this year, and that is awfully old for a pitcher who is throwing 220 innings, especially one with an injury history like Williams. He could be a good pickup in 2004 for your fantasy team, however be careful with this one, because he has never been consistent in his career. His numbers may be good in wins due to a potent St. Louis offense, but expect all the other categories to go up.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles, and Miguel Tejada owners, had quite a scare Thursday after Tejada had to leave Thursday's game against the Red Sox early with a strained lower right leg muscle. The injury is not serious and Tejada is expected to play as early as Saturday. Be sure to bump up Tejada on your rankings this year. Moving from a pitchers' park in Oakland to the hitters' park at Camden Yards. Tejada could have a monster season. Primarily a pull hitter, Tejada should enjoy the friendly dimensions in left field and in left-center. Remember, Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs playing half his games at Camden. 'Nuff said.

Boston Red Sox: There seems to be a misconception around the baseball world that right-hander Byung-Hyun Kim is a virtual lock for the fifth starter spot. Certainly not true. One twenty-seven-year-old hurler, who had a 2.08 ERA in 17.1 innings after being called during 2004, is coming on strong and the organization has no problem inserting him into the tail end of the rotation. Who are we talking about? Bronson Arroyo. "We all are aware he can be in the starting rotation," said manager Terry Francona. "I would have no problem with that, nor would anybody else." Keep your eye on the situation, Arroyo, considering the team's dangerous offensive, could be an excellent sleeper for a team in needed of victories on the mound.

Chicago White Sox: Demaso Marte was an amazing surprise for the White Sox last year, possibly emerging as a potential closer for the future for the South Siders. As a setup man for most of the year, Marte had a brilliant 1.58 ERA in 71 appearances. He had 87 strikeouts in just under 80 innings pitched. However, Marte was not given the closer role just yet, as the White Sox hope that Koch can return to the form he showed with the A's. If not, they have attained "Mr. Zero", Japan's career saves leader. Marte could be more effective than either of the two, but the Sox don't seem to realize it, and he will waste away as a setup man again. Don't pick him up on your team this year, unless the Sox decide that they want to trade Koch, in which case Marte will become very valuable. By 2005, he should be a full time closer somewhere, but the Sox still doubt his ability to do so this year.

Detroit Tigers: CF Alex Sanchez was a prized possession of the Milwaukee Brewers – until they could no longer put up with his on-field lapses and apparent lack of effort. The Brewers shipped him off to the Tigers for a pair of prospects and were happy to be rid of him. However, Tiger coaches were apparently able to get through to Sanchez, and he had a fairly productive season for the Tigers, especially in the Stolen Base category (finished second in the AL, despite spending the first part of the year in the NL). Sanchez should see his average stay consistent, and his run total should definitely increase with the increase in production in the lineup behind him. He won't do much in the power department, but he should definitely be able to generate some production in the other three categories.

Kansas City Royals: Shawn Camp has been opening some eyes in the Royals camp this spring. The reliever hasn't allowed a run in three innings of work and has looked downright unhittable at times. Camp recorded the save against the Cubs in one game, but that doesn't mean that the Royals will even consider moving him into that job once the season begins. Mike MacDougal converted 27 of 35 save opportunities for Kansas City last season and they're not looking to replace him. Still, Camp has moved closer to winning a spot in the bullpen and will continue to get closer if his run of success continues. Other good news has come from the fact that Jeremy Affeldt hasn't been bothered by any blister problems this spring, which is a good sign.

Minnesota Twins: Lots of teams are scouting outfielder Jacque Jones this season and the trade rumors could well start to swirl as spring training grinds on. Jones' name was mentioned frequently over the winter as trade bait, but he's still in Minnesota. The Twins would have plenty of options to fill Jones' shoes if they do decide to make a move. Michael Restovich, 25, played in just 24 games and got 53 at bats, but hit .283 and had a .406 OBP for Minnesota. He would appear to be first in line if the Twins move Jones. Another option is to keep Jones, who is hitting .546 (6-11) this spring and wait to see if anybody gets desperate and offers a better package later in the season.

New York Yankees: Let's face it, there are not too many "sleepers" on this squad. The one guy that could have flown under the radar and could do so even more now is OF Bernie Williams. In a lineup with the likes of Jeter, ARod, Giambi, Sheffield, Posada, etc, pitchers might overlook the aging Bernie. Williams is expected to miss the Yankees first two games in Japan at the end of the month after an emergency appendectomy and could be easily forgotten in your draft. Plagued by injuries, Williams hit just .263 last season but is a prime candidate for a bounce-back season in 2004.

Oakland Athletics: Miguel Who? Shortstop Bobby Crosby continued his torrid spring with some impressive homeruns. Has Billy Beane struck gold again? Mark Mulder is showing no signs of pain and that means good news for the A's and bad news for the rest of the AL considering they have a couple of other guys named Zito and Hudson, not to mention a some solid anchors in Redman and Harden. Cubs, shmubs, this rotation is godly. Eric Chavez and the A's still haven't agreed upon an extension and the deadline is looming. Hopefully for Chavez and fantasy owners, he won't duplicate Tejada's slow start in his contract year last season.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The D'Rays will have a five man rotation and manager Lou Piniella says there are "six or seven guys throwing better than Damian Moss." That's not a good sign. Moss struggled with his control in a start against Pittsburgh and Piniella was particularly concerned because he noted that while he was warming up, Moss had excellent control. The Devil Rays are looking for their pitchers to throw strikes this season after last year's staff couldn't seem to locate the strike zone. Piniella is putting a premium on throwing strikes and is even telling pitchers that he would rather see them give up some hits than walk opposing hitters. Moss won 12 games as a rookie with the Braves in 2002, but then hit a mid-season slide last year after a trade to Baltimore. While Piniella has been a little disappointed with Moss, he insists that he's still in the running to make the D'Rays rotation.

Toronto Blue Jays: Chris Woodward is getting another chance at being the Blue Jays everyday shortstop. Woodward won the job last season, only to lose it to Mike Bordick. Over the winter, Toronto brought in Chris Gomez, but manager Carlos Tosca says the job belongs to Woodward and Gomez will be his backup. A key for Woodward this spring has been to work on his fielding to cut down on errors and improve his range. Woodward hit 7-45-.261 with a .316 OBP for Toronto last season and the Jays think he can improve on those numbers. Actually, they're more concerned about Woodward doing things well defensively than they are about him improving at the plate. In other words, unless your league counts fielding percentage, Woodward probably won't show too much improvement over what he did last season.


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